Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Nebraska" (2013) - Movie Review

I remember the description of a black and white photograph by my brother. It spurred after he saw portrait picture taken by either his friend or someone he appreciated. Though I did not see it, my brother painted that with the amazement he got out of the effect it had on him. It was a picture of an old man. While the details of the description has vanished, the residue of it is that he was astonished by the fact of how clear the colour contrast brought out the stubble on that old man. That detail has been in my head forever. I could never forget that image as it quantifies something nostalgic and poetic. The five o’clock shade while is an appealing attractiveness on men, it has a hidden sadness that is out there in the open. I liked that and in “Nebraska”, director Alexander Payne with his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brought it out through the lead actor Bruce Dern.

Payne’s penchant for chronicling the mind of a middle aged to old men continues in “Nebraska”. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a man at the end of his life is on a quest to claim his million dollar prize. You know those mails, the scam mail that provides a shady yet flamboyant certificate with your name imprinted on it. When I first received it back in the grad school days, I was taken aback for split second but immediately came to my senses. That half a second impulse for a young man’s mind is evident on the belief of an old man out of his times to trust that. But the times have changed and people have learned. Woody on the other hand is fixed on his mind to collect it.

His son David Grant (Will Forte) is sympathetic towards the old man. His brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) not so much as both of them had to live through the drunken life of Woody. Her mother is Kate Grant (June Squibb) has long past the point in their marriage to filter her thoughts. She cannot take Woody taking off of the house walk towards Lincoln, Nebraska from their town Billings, Montana. About 900 miles. Soon enough David humours the old man’s intention and begins to drive him. Dave needs a break from the breakup from his girlfriend. He is pondering the life he wants to set forth. He has lived with her for 2 years and she is questioning on the next step.

Woody does not make a good impression on us as he is meandering in his mind into nothing while sparsely communicating and of course stubborn enough to go on to claim his scam prize. Yet not stubborn enough to overrule his wife Kate when she pisses all over his family, or may be he thinks the same. The journey takes them back to his hometown Hawthone, Nebraska. Woody and his extended family are gathered around and the silence in the room is unbelievable. The best comedy is the worst silence at an awkward situation. Here the awkward situation is not about an obscene act or an uncomfortable family secret rather the collection of this bunch in a room unable to have a conversation. Rather they choose to not have one as they are content in their happy little world. The men who once were drunks and obnoxious have gone mellow despite though the drinking continues while the women know the dependency these clueless weathered men have on them. Given that, it is good to be silent.

David generally gives in on the old man’s venture as he sees as his life turning out to be. He has seen his father being a drunk enough to have a resolution to let go off alcohol. He wants a sense of what his father’s life meant to the man himself. He asks the psychoanalytic questions the generation after Woody have begun to ask and ask more of it that has turned from sense to confusion including yours truly. David begins to learn about his dad through other means. The people that took advantage of him and the one that truly seemed to have loved him. We learn how nice of a guy and how naive of a man he was and is. When the family gets together, it would in one form or other remind the viewers of their own. Woody does not hide his nature of the trip and people begin to believe the prize. Soon enough they are ready to dwindle him citing how they took care of him during his drunken days. The truth though defines Woody.

The melancholy is not alone in the yearning music of Mark Orton but in the vein of the film. Bruce Dern’s existence is the film. He wanders off most of the time and is in a blank state of mind from his face expression but he carries Woody in simple motions and stares. His illogic actions borders on senility and desperation but mainly for expression. But the scene stealer is June Squibb as his wife who comes to Hawthorne and goes to the cemetery for paying respect. The respect Grant’s dead family gets single handedly gives her the best scene in terms of dark humour and little bit of truth. In addition to that is the landscape of the nothingness in this state that never really had an invitation for the people of other state and country. Here it cuddles with these two characters standing and staring at that, a reflection every now and then on what has or will become of their lives. When I saw Hawthorne, it reminded of every other little town I have biked through including the mom and pop stores. Somehow the best infrastructure throughout US has decimated the originality in city planning. Now it exists only through the farms, old house and barns that are desolated.

“What will you do with the million dollars?” asks David and Woody wants a pick up truck and a compressor. We see the film through David who as his dad is a nice guy but is self aware of the vultures when he sees one. He reevaluates through his dad to find an analogy or a sign for his but he begins to understand the man selflessly. This is a film that is everything about nostalgia. It is also about the men who do not find words to express themselves and choose random unrelated distant actions that no one can understand or read. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are the last people to expect on a screen and have a chemistry. They do begin in that unknown note in the beginning. When the film begins to unfold, flow and drives to the end we realize that they have developed something great. The greatness of David as a son to show his love by simply letting Woody be the father. “Nebraska” is one of the year’s best films.

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